How to use your painful past to encourage others

I was talking with a friend the other day who was sharing with me some very painful parts of her early childhood. An only child to an abusive father, a mentally-ill, perfection-driven mother. She spoke of the loneliness, the shame, the pressure, the results and consequences of living through those circumstances, some of which still linger to this day.

She was expressing the desire to somehow start processing it. Maybe she could write a book, or start talking to others, not only for her own healing process, but in order to encourage others. But after she finished sharing this with me, she stopped, pausing and staring blankly down at her feet. She then said, “But I guess it’ll have to wait until both my parents die first.”

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My friend is certainly not alone. I recently wrote my article about hardness of heart and what’s happened recently in my family and have struggled immensely with similar thoughts.

How do I speak of these circumstances, and yet not be disrespectful toward those involved?

How do I practically show honor and respect and share of my own journey through these hardships without drawing unnecessary attention toward my father or my mother?

How can we share painful parts of our lives and still honor people who have hurt us?

How can we show respect toward people who are not living respectfully?

This is just as much “real time” for me as it is anyone else, but through much prayer, reading, and talking with others, I’ll share what I’ve got so far on these issues.

  1. Speak from your perspective: There is freedom to make mention of what has occurred, but make every effort to quickly move past others’ specific actions to focus more on how you are processing things instead. Avoid bad mouthing as it will only cause more damage. Focus instead on you, what you’re learning and how the Lord is leading you.
  2. Keep it generic:  For example, sharing generically about the things you have learned  in the midst of your struggle, encouraging others against common struggles and how you are growing in the midst of those struggles
  3. See your Heavenly Father as the only perfect one: In order to heal and move forward it is crucial to know God is the only one who will never fail. This gives us the freedom to forgive and the release to not hold anyone to a standard they cannot ever meet. When those we love fail, let it be a reminder to look upward.
  4. Find ways to be thankful: There is likely something, even if it’s small, to be thankful for in the person who has hurt you or caused you harm. Find those few things and if you must speak of that person take the opportunity to voice those things instead of choosing to slander. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Proverbs 17:22
  5. Give grace: It’s always easier to give grace when we are aware of how much we also need it. When we forget how much we have sinned it is easier to feel that we can hold someone else in contempt. But we have been forgiven MUCH, which means we can offer grace even when, especially when it is not deserved.
  6. Create something new: Maybe you had a broken home or major “daddy issues”, maybe you struggle to find anything good at all about your childhood or about your circumstances growing up, but instead of growing bitter, use those thoughts to focus your efforts on creating something new. Make your home into the grace-filled, God-honoring home you’ve always desired. As you continue to let go of the “old”, allow yourself to be creative to pour into the new. “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them.” Isaiah 42:9
  7. Serve others: Be intentional to use your words to edify and to encourage others. If you speak of painful circumstances or heartbreaking stories, find ways to encourage those listening and to build up and strengthen those who hear you. I cannot think of anything that is truly gained when we spend our time using words to tear down. Focus on building up and strengthening others instead.
  8. Forgive: Forgive those who have hurt you, and after you’ve forgiven, forgive again and again and again. But be sure to define specifically what forgiveness is: Forgiveness does not condone, excuse or permit. Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation and it does not mean you continue in a relationship, but it does give your heart freedom and allows the Lord to heal you. Forgiveness allows you to see what good the Lord can do in the midst of sorrow and takes the focus off the pain. Forgiveness comes at a high cost but gives us hearts that are glad and hearts that are thankful. Revenge is not for us, that is not our burden to carry. “O LORD of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” Jeremiah 20:12
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Read this: What forgiveness is and what it isn’t

When we choose to walk in forgiveness and let go of our desire for revenge toward those who have caused us pain, there is freedom. Freedom to entrust that person to a holy God who assures us in the Word that vengeance belongs solely to Him. When we release that wrath we are then free to show respect and honor toward those who are un-honorable.

Why?

Because we also have been loved by Jesus when we haven’t deserved it.

I see over and over again in the Word that it is the Lord’s lovingkindness that leads people toward repentance, not coldness or gossip or slander. Kindness.

When we choose to no longer hold others in contempt for their poor choices, and instead choose to surrender their actions to the Lord, it is as if the broken shackles of bitterness and pain are finally off. And sometimes that can almost feel tangible, as if a weight has been lifted off our shoulders.

Choosing to show honor and respect does not mean the person you are showing it to deserves it. It simply reflects a Christ-like response toward those who have done wrong, for who among us can cast the first stone?

When we choose to forgive, and we respond with dignity, honor and respect it allows us to grow into the person God has created us to be. Our character is grown and strengthened. Hardship, challenging relationships, and struggles are the conduits that bring about Godly character.

If you are hurting, if there is hardship, if you are struggling with a difficult relationship, know that you are not alone. The Lord sees you and is near to you in your suffering. He hears your cries and He loves you.

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Watch: Kirk and Chelsea Cameron talk openly about how the struggles of marriage 

Dear friend, I want to encourage you to be free!

There is freedom to speak of the circumstances you have endured, the pain you have experienced, the wrongs committed against you, but I challenge you to do so with respect toward your offender(s).

What is it that you have learned through that trial? Where is it that you can grow? What is it about this has brought you closer to Jesus? How can you help or encourage others through your own experiences? Who are you in Jesus and how has your identity in Him become more solidified through the destruction of these circumstances?

Slander, and wagging your tongue to gossip, will do nothing by destroy. It’ll destroy trust, relationship, friendship, and intimacy, but more than that your own soul…for the tongue is lit on fire by hell itself. I couldn’t encourage you enough to kill any desire to speak poorly of others.

Guard your words, protect them, and keep them in check…but don’t ever let that lead you toward isolation and silence. This is an opportunity to speak of Jesus.

Move fearlessly in, through, and on from your struggles and as you do be diligent to seek out how you might know Jesus more fully and more completely. Rather than replay conversations in your mind with those who have wronged you, use your time to instead pray through your suffering that you might draw near to the Giver of all life more intimately.

The Word is clear that we are to show honor. And showing honor even means toward people that have not been honorable…for the act of showing honor has far less to do with the person receiving it as it does the person offering it.

Use your pain, circumstances and hardship to speak of Jesus. Boast in your own weakness that HIS strength might be proclaimed through you! Speak boldly of the work He is doing in your life amidst the joys and triumphs, but especially amidst the sorrows and suffering. He is using this, yes, even this, to do a great work in you and through you…will you share that with those around you?

Now read this: When just saying ‘I love you’ isn’t enough

This post originally appeared on MegMarieWallace.com and was republished with permission.

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